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Number of species: 80

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Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebe

Eastern Phoebes can generally be aged by examining the wing and tail, but both molt limits and rectrix shape are relatively subtle, and by spring a fair number of intermediates are not reliably aged. Sexes are identical in plumage; breeding females have a brood patch, but males have a poorly developed cloacal protuberance and may be more difficult to identify with confidence.

Quick Tips:

  • Examine the greater coverts. On HY/SY birds, at least 4 inner greater coverts (and occasionally all) are dark with grayish tips, contrasting with retained paler juvenile coverts that are shorter and have buffy tips; on AHY/ASY birds, all greater coverts are uniform in size and colour, with grayish tips.
  • Look at the primary coverts - on HY/SY birds they are relatively narrow and pointed and may have small rusty tips, while on AHY/ASY birds they are broader and more rounded, lacking any rusty tips.
  • Consider the rectrices, which on HY/SY birds may be somewhat pointed, or with central rectrices contrastingly fresh and rounded, whereas on AHY/ASY birds they are uniformly rounded (but beware differences in rectrix shape by age are more subtle than in many other species).

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory

Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.
Age / Sex  Image sets 
Juvenile / Unknown
Brownish above and grayish below, with buffy wing bars.
Thumbnail - IS2-2810-94779-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-4791.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2810-94779-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-4792.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2810-94779-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-4793.jpg
Hatch year / Unknown
Molt limit among greater coverts; outer rectrices relatively narrow and pointed, sometimes contrasting with replaced rounder central rectrices.
Thumbnail - MH3-2510-81905-Sayornis_phoebe-170.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-2510-81905-Sayornis_phoebe-171.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-2510-81905-Sayornis_phoebe-172.jpg

Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1566-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-4229.jpg Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1566-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-4231.jpg Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1566-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-4230.jpg
After hatch year / Unknown
Wing uniformly dark; rectrices uniformly broad and rounded.
Thumbnail - MH3-2460-40330-Sayornis_phoebe-359.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-2460-40330-Sayornis_phoebe-360.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-2460-40330-Sayornis_phoebe-361.jpg
Second year / Unknown
Molt limit among greater coverts; outer rectrices relatively narrow and pointed, sometimes contrasting with replaced rounder central rectrices.
Thumbnail - MH3-NA_335-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-775.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-NA_335-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-774.jpg

Thumbnail - MH3-NA_429-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-920.jpg Thumbnail - MH3-NA_429-Sayornis_phoebe_AOU_7_52-921.jpg

Additional age / sex class descriptions

The following additional age / sex class descriptions were found for this species:
Age / Sex   Age / Sex class description
After second year / Unknown Wing uniformly dark; rectrices uniformly broad and rounded.
Number of species: 80

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